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For the Shawanda wrestling family, nobody is left behind

Love of the sport goes well beyond two brothers competing for Team Ontario at Indigenous Games

The 2017 North American Indigenous Games aren’t the first time wrestlers Miisheen-Meegwun Shawanda and Naakwaam Shawanda have represented Ontario.

They competed in the 2014 Games in Regina, but in the sport of canoe/kayak.

Their reasoning for missing out on wrestling differs greatly, but the driving motivation behind making the switch was the same.

For Miisheen, he was only in his second year of wrestling in high school, and decided to “play it safe” with his “strong canoeing background.”

The younger Naakwaam said he “wasn’t aware that there was actually wrestling in the Indigenous Games.”

But when Toronto took the hosting bid for 2017 and the opportunity to represent their home province presented itself, that’s what really motivated them to compete in wrestling this time around.

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Miisheen-Meegwun Shawanda warms up on the sidelines before his opening match against Garvin Mckay. (David Rouben/Toronto Observer)

It’s pretty remarkable that Miisheen is able to compete on a national level when he started out wrestling competitively in high school. However, he and his brothers come from a martial arts background, and the eldest sibling Noodin explained that wrestling is really close to jiu-jitsu.

Of the two disciplines, Noodin said that “besides the chokes and the holds, the throws were a lot similar and then the grappling atmosphere … the both of us transitioned very easily.”

At 19, Noodin is too old to compete in this year’s Indigenous Games. However, he has enjoyed taking up the role of a mentor figure to his younger brothers.

“It was actually my dad, because he wrestled in high school, he was kind of the one who pushed me into wrestling”, Noodin said. “So I got into it, then once Miisheen came along, he wanted to help, and then from there, our younger brother Naakwaam hopped in so it’s been kind of growing ever since.

“I wasn’t able to have Naakwaam on the [high school] team because when I graduated, Naakwaam came into school too. So we weren’t on the same team there, but I was always going to his matches, all his tournaments and stuff. So, yeah, I really like to support my brothers.”

As for the two Team Ontario athletes, Miisheen has been guiding Naakwaam every step of the way. He likens the relationship to the one Noodin had with him when they competed together in high school.

“He really pushed me once I joined the high school wrestling team. He was still in high school at the time so, again what I do to my little brother, he did to me. So, he kind of fathered me into it and really nurtured me along.”

Naakwaam feels that brotherly love, even when he lost out on a chance to earn gold in just his second match of the Games.

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Naakwaam Shawanda fought hard, but came up short against John Crawford in his second match.  (David Rouben/Toronto Observer)

“Both my brothers, they’re always there as soon as I get off the mat, such as my last match I lost. [Miisheen] was right there and ready, starting to give me pointers on how to be better for my next match.”

Having the North American Indigenous Games in their home province affords the Shawandas the opportunity to see their extended family in the stands. Noodin explained that none of their family showed up in Regina because it was so far away, but the parents are a very important part of this tight-knit circle of support that they all share.

For example, Miisheen has to cut over 15 pounds just to make it to the mat. His mom knows the gruelling process involved in weight cutting, and says “we always try to make sure that we eat the same things that they’re eating just so that they see that support.”

Support is the key to the Shawanda family’s success, which is why each of the brothers always tries to follow the other when it comes to competing. Following the Indigenous Games, Miisheen will attend Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, and is expected to compete alongside Noodin on the varsity wrestling team.

OUA is a much higher level than what he’s competing at, but Miisheen has already set a goal of earning a podium finish, then after that, going to the national finals.